Hellen Obiri: The long-distance runner travels thousands of miles from her home in Kenya to pursue her marathon ambitions


These include Kenyan food and ugali, the country’s staple – a dense porridge made from cornmeal.

“Kenyans, we like to eat ugali,” Obiri told CNN Sport. “I need to figure out where I’m going to cook my Kenyan food over there (in the United States).”

A good ugali can hold the keys to successfully taking the next steps in their long-distance running career. Obiri, a two-time world 5,000-meter champion, will run her first marathon in New York later this year before teaming up with a new coach and training group in Boulder, Colorado.

It’s common for long-distance runners to switch from track to road racing towards the end of their careers, but more rarely, going halfway across the world like Obiri planned.

Earlier this year, the 32-year-old joined the On Athletics Club (OAC), an elite Boulder-based team led by former long-distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein. She hopes to move to the United States next month ahead of the Nov. 6 New York City Marathon.

“We’ve always wanted to move to the US to train and live, so it’s not a difficult move for me,” Obiri, who will be stationed outside of Kenya for the first time in her career, tells CNN.

“I think as an athlete and for my family I want to move there as soon as possible to get a good acclimatization… It will take me at least two weeks to get used to it and catch up on my training there.”

Celebrating during the 2020 Monaco Diamond League meeting, Obiri will make her marathon debut later this year.

Boulder’s high altitude, hilly trails and temperate climate make it an ideal spot for long-distance runners. There, Obiri will join a relatively new team at OAC, launched in 2020 by Swiss sportswear brand On.

Under Ritzenhein’s guidance, Obiri has already started her marathon program and this week is increasing her training load from 180 to 200 kilometers per week. She is starting the next chapter in her career after establishing herself as one of the top 5k and 10k runners in the world over the past five years.

Just last month she won a silver medal in the 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships – with a personal best of 30 minutes and 10 seconds – and has won silver medals at the last two Olympics, alongside her two 5,000m world titles in the event.

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Her debut in New York will be the first indicator of how Obiri’s career pedigree translates into the marathon’s 26.2 miles.

“I can’t say I’m going to aim this time or this time — it’s my debut,” she says. “I can’t tell if maybe I want to run under 2:20, 2:25 because I know the New York Marathon is a tough course, especially the second half.”

The challenging course begins on Staten Island and winds through New York’s five boroughs before ending down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park.

“For me I want to train well because it’s my debut and I’m definitely looking forward to doing a good race – I’m looking forward to racing my own race with no pressure and finishing well,” Obiri added added.

She says she’ll miss running her favorite 5,000m distance, but won’t completely ditch her track spikes with the switch to marathons.

“You can’t do a marathon without speed,” explains Obiri, adding that she hopes to stay fit by competing in the 5,000m in Kenya next year.

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Obiri is narrowly beaten by Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia in the 10,000m at this year's World Athletics Championships.

However, the immediate focus is on settling in with her family in the United States. Obiri hopes, depending on the visa, that her seven-year-old daughter, Tania, will move in in time to see the race in New York.

“She’s going to be so excited to leave the country,” Obiri says. “She watches most of my races and is so happy that I win some races there.

“When I’m at a race she knows mum’s not there, mum goes out to do some work. She actually calls me and says, ‘Mom, do your best and be number one.’ She always wants me to be number one.”

Obiri’s daughter won’t be the only one with high expectations at the NYC Marathon. Kenyan athletes have dominated the event for the past decade, with eight winners in the women’s race since 2010, and those watching at home hope Obiri can contribute to that legacy.

But regardless of her performance, Obiri, as she weaves her way through the five boroughs of New York in November, will signal the start of a new stage in her running career and a new adventure for her family.